We, the people

  • Esther van Messel, Founder & CEO

    Born 1965 in Vienna, lives in Switzerland and holds a Bachelor's degree in film & television production and in history from the University of Tel Aviv. In 1990, she joined Warner Bros. Israel and became Head of Distribution. From 1992 she produced international feature films and documentaries as Head of Co-Production and Sales for an independent production company in Zurich. In 1998, Esther van Messel founded her own company First Hand Films in Zurich and Berlin for world sales of documentaries and fiction films. First Hand Films acts as executive producer for selected projects. Esther van Messel has been working as a lecturer and consultant for various organisations like EAVE Brussels, IDFA Forum Amsterdam, Cinemart Rotterdam, Eurodoc Paris, Avea Johannesburg, Eureka Warsaw and Tallinn, Another Finland, TV Media Business School Barcelona, Discovery Campus Munich, F&S Screen Training Ireland, the Filmacademy Ludwigsburg, the Erich Pommer Institut and the Austrian Parliament, a.o. She was an appointed member of the Selection Committee for the Austrian Film Institute and served on several juries like Golden Link EBU and Nordisk Filmpanorama. Since 1999 she co-owns Vertical Strategy Ltd. in Leipzig together with Björn Koll from Edition Salzgeber Berlin. Esther van Messel is fluent in English, German, French, Dutch, Hebrew, and not yet in Danish. Since 1992 and 1995 she is raising a daughter and a son. She rides a Hornet 900.
  • Nicole Biermaier, Head of Swiss Distribution

    Born 1971 to a French speaking mother and a German father, lives and works in Zurich. Nicole spent some significant years of working and wandering in London and Paris. She holds a Master of Arts and studied in Zurich at the Media Art department where she focused on interactive video, film, text, sound and experimented at the Film Department with 16mm essay film. At the University of Arts & ZKM in Karlsruhe it got even better, and she focused on experimental, essayistic documentary film. 2008-2010 Nicole researched at the Master class of Fine Arts within the field of expanded cinema. Throughout all of that, Nicole earned her living in a number of well-known international companies with administrational work. She used the knowledge gained in such an economical environment for her production work within the arts. Since 2000, Nicole has been developing and conducting many works in the field of art, theatre or film. Her projects have been exhibited and screened internationally. At the same time she was teaching and mentoring at the Universities in Bern and Zurich. Since June 2015 Nicole is part of the team at First Hand Films. She is happy to say goodbye to a time where earning money consisted of having 7 jobs or projects simultaneously and has many ideas for a fruit- and colourful future at the firm.
  • Shan Guo, Executive Assistant

    Born and raised in China, lives in Germany, works in Zurich. She studied Communication and Cultural Management, Media Management in Germany, East Asian Art History, Film Studies and Japanese in Zurich. She worked as a journalist in German as well as in Chinese media industry, such as SWR 4 Bodensee Radio, Deutsche Welle and CCTV News Channel; and also worked as a technical coordinator assistant for an international film distributor in Germany. Film is her passion, she believes film has a special magic – a freedom of expression, when filmmakers express their attitudes toward life and the world through their art. Shan is fascinated by this attractive magic of film. She loves to share good films with people worldwide, films that make people laugh, cry and think.
  • Lea Link, Swiss Distribution

    Born and raised in Switzerland by a German mother and a Swiss father, Lea obtained her Bachelor degree in Graphic Design from the Hochschule Lucerne – Design & Art. She discovered her passion for cinema and films working at Fantoche, International Animation Film Festival, and while working as projectionist in an arthouse cinema. Now she’s excited to get to know the film world through distribution and world sales and is happy to be First Hand Films in-house graphic designer.
  • Shiran Shmerling, Sales & Finances

    Born and raised in Switzerland, moved to Israel to study film and television at Tel Aviv University. After completing her Bachelor’s Degree, Shiran continued her path with an international MBA at Tel Aviv International School while also certifying for the international Skipper’s license. She speaks seven languages and is learning the eighth now, Arabic. Before joining First Hand Films, Shiran grew her Airbnb business in Tel Aviv into an outstanding travel experience for her guests and is now looking forward to combining her varied experience at First Hand Films.
  • Jasmine Meyer, Production Assistant

    Born and raised in Luzern, Jasmine successfully completed her first short film at the age of 17. She extended her passion for and her knowledge about film with a bachelor’s degree in film studies at the University of Zürich. At the same time, she also studied Sociology at the University of Lucerne. For several years, Jasmine dedicated herself to working in the cultural industry. She now continues her education with a master’s degree in management of Non-Profit and Public Organizations at the Hochschule Luzern while working as a production assistant at First Hand Films.